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Sylvania partnership high ‘lights’ Mervyns


HAYWARD, CALIF. —Partnerships can be distinctly beneficial to retailers initiating sustainability programs. For example, Mervyns partnered with Osram Sylvania to lessen the environmental impact of its energy usage and cut associated costs, and the effort turned out to be more successful than either party anticipated.

Osram Sylvania’s expertise proved critical to a partnership that helped Mervyns reach—and surpass—its goals in a time frame otherwise impossible to fulfill. Not only that, but Mervyns’ work with Sylvania also helped generate a new set of internal dynamics at the company.

Rick Diehl, director of sales and marketing for Sylvania Lighting Services, said that among the range of social issues that confront retailers, sustainability has a silver lining. Many sustainable practices cut operational costs and are consistent with other operational goals. Most retailers are eager to cut energy costs given their significant rise in recent years, but many are simultaneously looking to contribute to improving the environment by reducing solid waste and atmospheric pollution.

While saving money is an immediate priority, addressing sustainability as a social issue is gaining in importance, Diehl noted. Eventually, he said, sustainability itself will supercede direct cost savings, as consumers and other interested groups, from activists to regulators, become more involved in the issue. Retailers who act early, will get the most credit for their actions and even help shape solutions, while those that lag behind may be suspect as eco-slackers.

Effectively, sustainability provides an opportunity to address more than one issue. “One of the primary directives from Mervyns, along with environmental and cost savings, was to improve the performance of lighting systems and make stores more aesthetically appealing,” Diehl said.

Robert Lucacher, environmental and energy manager for Mervyns, said the retailer and its partner also shaped the project to better connect Mervyns with its customer base. Mervyns analyzed consumer comments about environmental priorities in the communities it serves. By doing so, Mervyns initiated sustainability programs that addressed its shoppers’ top-of-mind concerns.

Mervyns, with its market primarily in California and the Southwest, has a consumer base increasingly concerned with the consequences of global warming, with solid waste also a consideration. The lighting refit it developed with Sylvania included generating more light with fewer bulbs, thus cutting both solid waste and greenhouse gas-producing energy.

“At Mervyns, we developed an interesting concept: How does a lighting retrofit meet the needs…not only of all our operating departments but all our constituencies as we imaged them to be?” Lucacher said. “One thing we wanted to do was to understand and reflect the values of our customer. To get the job done, Mervyns involved executives from across the company…analyzed their input and developed a plan that could be properly evaluated.”

To address all of Mervyns’ expectations for the lighting project, preparation and flexibility in execution were critical. Diehl said Mervyns acted as a true partner, with the retailer’s point people advocating on behalf of the ideas Sylvania brought to the table. If Mervyns had approached the project just with a dollar figure and timetable, Diehl said, it wouldn’t have been as successful as it was.

In executing the project, Sylvania installed high-performance, long-life lamps and high-efficiency electronic ballasts to standardize the lamp types throughout all facilities. Existing four-lamp fixtures were de-lamped to save energy, but were arranged to maintain light output and distribution using new reflectors and louvers. Additionally, WattStopper, an occupancy sensor manufacturer, provided light control detectors to turn lights out when areas are not in use.

Not all fixes were high tech, however. Sylvania simply cleaned some fixtures to restore reflectivity.

Financially, from an initial $11.5 million investment, Mervyns anticipates annual savings of $6 million. Energy savings of 29 million kilowatt hours per year equal a projected $4.3 million annually, with utility rebates contributing an estimated $1.2 million. New equipment and exclusive SLS lamp and ballast warranties will provide Mervyns with a projected annual maintenance savings of $1.7 million. Reducing energy use also qualifies Mervyns for a tax benefit that should result in tax savings of more than $2.9 million.

From Mervyns’ partnership with Sylvania flowed another critical benefit: reinvigorating the retailer’s work force in ways neither partner could have predicted. Mervyns set and met the range of goals it established for the lighting project because it communicated with all of the company’s affected departments as it set priorities and standards.

An unanticipated benefit of those communications was realized in the enthusiasm generated among employees by Mervyns. Recognizing an opportunity to get involved with the company’s sustainability efforts, they began making suggestions, forming committees and becoming more excited about their jobs, all because they were motivated by an opportunity to help their communities and the planet, Lucacher said.

The dynamic arising from the partnership goes beyond operations. For example, a retailer isn’t going to get credit for sustainability efforts unless it can communicate what it is doing in an effective way, and it can find partners to help. Thus, partnerships can help retailers get better results from sustainability initiatives.

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